The economic climate in late 2022 is challenging for both consumers and retailers. Inflation keeps ramping up and supply chains are unpredictable at best. Although we use the term customer expectations, right now customers often don’t know what to expect.
Will their order arrive when they need it? Will the queue for customer service phone calls be prohibitively long? Did someone actually receive their email or text message requesting information or support, or did it disappear into cyberspace?
Likewise, businesses may not know how to cope effectively with a difficult environment—which may be the “new normal.” Some workers have left, and it may be proving very difficult for companies to replace them. All these factors make it more important for companies to close the Engagement Capacity Gap.
These complications are happening at exactly the time when customer retention is more critical than ever. Customers have reduced discretionary spending power but will continue to buy from their favourite brands, according to research published in the Verint Guide to Customer Engagement in the Retail Industry. “Of all consumers surveyed, 62% have lower confidence in the state of the economy than 12 months ago,” says the report, and further states that 76% are currently spending less money.
As the report says, “Finding ways to retain customers and ensure they are still choosing to spend their shrinking disposable income will be vital to riding out this period of rising inflation.”
Meanwhile, customers are using an increasing array of tools to cut through the massive amount of information available to them. Comparing price, availability, and reviews of everything from purchase to product quality to delivery is becoming second nature to consumers. If they do have a question or a problem, it is possible for them to reach out through an expanding number of digital channels to contact companies directly.
No matter which channel a customer chooses to contact a company, the response they receive represents the entire company. Consumers don’t differentiate between company departments, and they generally don’t care about internal processes, structures, or hierarchies. What’s more, they shouldn’t have to. The messages and responses they receive from a company should be consistently on-brand as well as consistently helpful. They are all part of the customer experience.
In practice, however, that kind of consistency is very difficult to generate and maintain, especially in our era of hybrid and distributed work models—not to mention the recent employee retention challenges we’ve seen throughout the US and other places around the world. These include “The Great Resignation” and the “Quiet Quitting” phenomena, popular topics in the media. Current conditions are exacerbating the Engagement Capacity Gap.
To produce consistent and accurate responses and solutions for customers requires that all employees be equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to meet or exceed customer expectations, regardless of whether they happen to be working at home, in an office, or at an airport, and no matter which department they work in.
Silos are barriers within organisations that impede clear and direct communication and access to knowledge. Cutting through these silos is critical for addressing the increasing number and complexity of customer concerns and for maintaining a consistent experience.
Providing an “amazing” experience has a huge impact on customers. As Verint’s report states, “Following an amazing customer experience, 88% are likely to make repeat purchases and 82% to recommend the company to a friend or family member.” In addition, more than two-thirds indicated an above-average likelihood of joining a brand’s loyalty program.
How do you make the experience “amazing”? By exceeding customer expectations and doing so consistently. This requires that you are setting those expectations appropriately throughout all your messaging, including marketing, sales, and service. As industry sage Blake Morgan puts it, “Everyone works in customer experience.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, bad service experiences have an enormous impact on customer retention:
- 62% of the survey respondents would stop purchasing from a retailer if a service issue was not resolved on the first attempt
- 57% of respondents said they were likely to stop buying from a retailer if they were not able to reach out on their channel of choice
- 55% of respondents would end a relationship with a retailer because of having to repeat themselves
- 50% of survey takers said long wait times would make them likely to stop purchasing from a retailer
Addressing these dangers to customer retention is possible using the right approaches:
- First Contact Resolution (FCR) can be facilitated by providing solid, consistent knowledge where and when it is needed.
- Taking an omnichannel approach using tools that preserve customer history across channels allows retailers to field contacts according to customer preferences and handle those contacts seamlessly, eliminating the need for the repetition of information a customer has already provided.
- Wait times can be reduced through workforce optimisation (WFO), excellent knowledge management, and the use of real-time assistance and conversational AI in addition to the right training and increasing the use of automation.
- Taking a proactive approach can build better relationships with customers as well as reduce the need for customers to reach out. Minimising customer effort should be a high priority for businesses at all times, but especially in the current economic climate.
Increasing the use of channels that are currently being underutilised for customer interaction can be one of the routes companies take to set expectations, build loyalty, and increase customer retention. According to Verint research, “…62% of companies have a website, online community, or forum, but only 14% of customer interactions happen there.”
“It’s a similar story with social media and messaging: our survey found both channels are used by over 50% of respondents’ companies, but, on average, only 15% (social media) and 14% (messaging) of customer interactions are taking place in either of the channels.”
Again, consistency across all the channels and platforms is key to setting customer expectations. To maintain that consistency, silos need to be broken down and the appropriate technology deployed to provide amazing customer experiences.
Although employee churn, supply chain volatility, and decreased spending power are exerting increased pressure on retailers, the means exist to address the concerns expressed by respondents to Verint’s research. Companies need to plan for the hybrid workforce—humans, AI, and well-executed automation working together to provide customers with low-friction engagement opportunities. One Workforce enables companies to say, “Everyone works in customer experience.”
Join Verint’s David Singer and me tomorrow for our LinkedIn Live session called “Why One Workforce Works to Deliver Amazing Customer Experiences.” See you there!
Roy Atkinson serves as CEO and Principal Advisor for Clifton Butterfield, LLC, a business advisory practice, and is a recognised thought leader in IT, service management, and customer experience. He is a Fellow of the Institute for Digital Transformation and a member of HDI’s Strategic Advisory Board. His expertise has been featured by The Economist, BizTech Magazine, Computerworld, and others. He is one of HDI’s Top 25 Thought Leaders for 2022. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business.